A Smile through a “Cardboard Window”

Juarez: God surprises you with joy from the most unexpected places. A few days ago I found myself holding up a wall being nailed into place on a Casa por Cristo house build. Holding things up and carrying things fell squarely in the middle of my skill set as a carpenter and builder.

Since it does not take a great deal of mental energy to hold up a wall, I began to look around at my surroundings. I found myself standing in a small neighborhood that was less than thirty minutes from my home on the Westside of El Paso yet I was in a community that looked like a “third world” country. Even the home we were building would not have running water nor indoor plumbing. It would be a simple secure two-room home what would be closer to camping than what we consider a normal standard of living.

Way too often we fail to appreciate the amazing wonders of life in the United States. Our poor would be the rich just across the river in some neighborhoods in Juarez.

However, God reminded me that Jesus nailed it when He declared: “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” Happiness or blessedness bubbles up in the most expected places. As I was holding up the wall I noticed I was being watched through a peephole torn in a piece of cardboard serving as the window of the neighbor’s home. At first I saw the dark brown eyes peering out. Then as she lifted her face and realized that I had spotted her I saw a big toothy smile, and finally a small hand reached out of the peephole and waved at me. I waved back, but made sure I kept one hand in place lest the wall fall down!

A simple smile and a happy wave reminded me the priceless treasure of joy. In this neighborhood that most would consider poverty I found friendly smiles radiating from the faces of the little ones. Whether it was the children who sat and watched us work in wonder or the young boys who pitched in and helped us stucco the walls of the little house.

A few years ago I found myself wandering the streets of the Magic Kingdom in Orlando trying to reconnect with my girls. As I scared the sea of faces looking for the familiar faces of my children I was stunned to see so many frowns. I saw frustrated parents arguing with the children over soveniers. I saw teenagers with arms crossed tired of waiting in line for their minute and a half of thrill on a roller coaster. I saw workers’ whose minds had checked out while they went about their mininal tasks. So much for a “Magic Kingdom”–Disney World sadly reflected the emptiness of our pursuit of happiness in all the wrong places.

In a simple yet powerful way, God taught me to smile and enjoy the simple pleasures of life because it is there that I gain a glimpse of His face in a child.

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Filed under Border Journal, El Paso Journal

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